Like most suburbs in southwestern Chicagoland, Bolingbrook, Ill., isn’t a very old place.
The community is 46 years old and borders I-55, which is part of the old Route 66, one of the first expressways to service Chicago. Farmlands that bordered the road disappeared and now Bolingbrook is a city of 74,000 people — whom mostly work in Chicago or nearby Cook County. And while other nearby communities have direct train service into Chicago, the nearest stations to Bolingbrook are about 10 miles away in Joliet, Ill., and Aurora, Ill.
“When we had any kind of [city] meetings we wouldn’t start them until 8 p.m. for the people who commute so they could get home and spend some time with their family,” Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar said. “That’s a practice we still hold today because so many people here seek work in the city or Cook County.”
In 2011, Pace Suburban Bus began a pilot program with the Illinois Department of Transportation to implement bus on shoulder service (BOSS) for two routes along I-55 in order to alleviate issues with buses getting to their destinations on time and to help encourage people to use transit. In just one year, Pace saw its on-time performance from the new bus on shoulder routes jump from 68 percent to 90 percent, while ridership on the two routes jumped 60 percent and 152 percent respectively.
BOSS Grows in popularity
Bus on shoulder service isn’t a new concept, but it’s one that’s growing. OC Transpo in Ottawa started using it on the Queensway. On the west end, the shoulder lanes stretch from Moodie Drive to Eagleson Road; and the east end bus shoulder lanes are on Regional Road 174 between Blair Road and Place d’Orleans.
Pace began the bus on shoulder pilot in November 2011, with most of the costs paid for with a $1.5 million Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) grant to finance road improvements, signage, restriping the lanes and relocating rumble strips. Large portions of I-55 have 12-feet-wide shoulders prior to implementing the service, which allowed for a less expensive start to the program.
Dennis Newjahr, senior group manager of transit and rail for Atkins, said bus on shoulder service allows for buses to become more competitive with other modes of transit by letting it get there faster than a car and keeping pace with rail.
“Well I don’t see it as a stop-gap solution,” he said. “I see it as — if you will — a menu of options that we need to look at. In south Florida, we have express lanes as well as bus on shoulder lanes, but it’s a menu. We were fortunate enough here to get some express lanes in several agreements with the tolling authority.”
Transit providers in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area in Minnesota have been using bus on shoulder service for 22 years in an effort to increase capacity while using existing roadways. The program exploded since its original inception and in 2012, the region reached 300 miles of roadway accommodating the service.
John Siqveland, spokesman for Metro Transit, said there’s an expansive amount of park-and-ride lots in the Twin Cities, so buses will take commuters in from the suburbs into the downtown areas of the cities. In downtown Minneapolis, he said two streets — Marquette and 2nd Street — also have bus-only lanes to decrease travel times.
Siqveland said bus operators are trained to only utilize shoulder service when traffic is going slower than 35 miles per hour. Operators who then use the shoulder are only allowed to go up to 15 miles per hour faster than the rest of traffic, with a max speed of 35 miles per hour.
Growth in Ridership
Newjahr said agencies who start bus on shoulder service will see a bump in ridership because it makes it able to compete with cars. “From the visual standpoint, there’s nothing better than seeing a bus go by while you’re stuck in traffic,” he said.